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Peter Kammerer says opening our door wider to mainland visitors is to be welcomed, once we look past the bigoted claims
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Call Hong Kong an international city? The small-town mentality of some people is so Lilliputian that there are times when I have my doubts. As with the relaxing of entry permits for non-residents of six mainland cities, Shenzhen among them. The cry from the narrow-minded among us is spine-chilling: Our wonderful, special city is about to be despoiled and made unliveable by millions of second- or even third-rate no-hopers.
Dare I say that I have heard the same scaremongering as long as I have lived here. Back in the 1980s, the description applied to anyone living north of the Shenzhen River. Mainlanders were our poor cousins and backward to boot; if allowed to come to Hong Kong, they were likely to work illegally, deceive and steal. Whenever I went to Guangdong and beyond, I certainly found a less glitzy world, but its people were friendly, decent and honest.
Move forward two-and-a-half decades and mainland Chinese cannot be looked down on. Their spending power is the reason our economy is healthy. If we hadn't started opening our doors wide to them in the wake of the Sars outbreak in 2003, Hong Kong would be struggling for direction and in danger of decline. Yet, the voices of derision continue, criticising values, cleanliness, politeness and even fashion sense.
Now, if all that wasn't enough, the detractors say an even worse class of locust is about to descend. The new rules taking effect this month allow Shenzhen's 4.1 million non-permanent residents to get multi-entry permits without having to go to their home provinces to apply. About 16 million more in Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin will be eligible for single-entry permits. What sets them apart from present mainland tourists is they are likely to be factory workers and less well-heeled - and, in the eyes of objectors, prone to work illegally, deceive and steal.
To make matters worse, they will want to do their everyday shopping here, which will affect the price and availability of daily necessities. Our public transport will be jam-packed and streets made unsanitary. It's all so familiar - this is what was said when mainlanders first began arriving in numbers.
I wonder how aware the people making these claims are that Hong Kong allows visa-free entry for lengthy periods to visitors from far less wealthy places. Entry of up to three months is given to tourists from Gambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zimbabwe, which have per capita incomes far below the mainland's. If those so worried are to be believed, there is surely a greater risk of citizens from these countries causing trouble. Yet there are no calls for quota or monitoring systems.
Those so fearful of mainland hordes seem to believe that Hong Kong is a nirvana, a place so special that it has to be protected. I hate to break it to them, but beyond our public transport system, country parks and compactness, it doesn't offer much that can't be found elsewhere. Globalisation means the world also has a wide range and choice. Not only that, criminals aside, it is not in our interests to keep out anyone wanting to spend money or do business. That's what being an international city is about.
Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post